Even before the Senate environment panel pushed through a GOP protest to approve
its climate change bill, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman
(I-CT), and John Kerry (D-MA) were working behind the scenes on a
so-called "tripartisan" plan that can win enough votes in Congress’ upper chamber to make nationwide emissions cuts a reality.
Over the weekend, the first hints of the trio’s potential strategy were revealed to The Washington Post — and new pricing for transportation fuel could play a major role (emphasis mine):
According to several sources familiar with the process, the lawmakers
are looking at cutting the nation’s greenhouse gas output by targeting,
in separate ways, three major sources of emissions: electric utilities,
transportation and industry.
Power plants would face an overall cap on emissions that would
become more stringent over time; motor fuel may be subject to a carbon
tax whose proceeds could help electrify the U.S. transportation sector;
and industrial facilities would be exempted from a cap on emissions for
several years before it is phased in.
The concept of an across-the-board tax on fossil fuels used for transport is not new. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson backed it in October, aligning his company with the stance of some environmental groups and causing debate over his motivations.
Tillerson’s endorsement proposed rebating a carbon tax back to
consumers rather than letting it "becom[e] a revenue stream for other
purposes," making it far from clear whether the three senators could
win support for giving more new money to electrified transportation.
(By way of context, electric cars received more funding in the first six months of the Obama administration than the Federal Transit Administration’s annual budget.)
Physicist Joseph Romm, who blogs on every twist of the climate debate for the Center for American Progress, described
the Post story as a "trial balloon" for the senators’ plan and warned
that the end of the cap-and-trade concept would hardly silence critics
who are working to re-brand emissions caps as a closet "gas tax":